What’s your next chapter?

This past weekend, I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC.

I registered for the conference on a whim in April. I had been hoping to go to Montreal’s Osheaga Festival (the same weekend),  but it was actually cheaper for me to fly to New York and attend this conference than it was to go to Quebec. Also the fact that this conference would actually help further my career, as opposed to going to an (admittedly awesome) outdoor festival for three days.

Because this was the first conference I’ve ever attended, I had no idea what to expect. My first session was Friday afternoon (2:40pm, to be exact) and from there, I basically went non-stop until Sunday at 1pm.

The sessions were varied: there were 3-4 different talks every hour and it was sometimes hard to decide which one I wanted to go to. Luckily, most of the talks were recorded and the links should be sent out soon.

I went to talks about writing bestsellers and what not to do; discussions of the publishing industry and the role of literary agents; and lectures on important storytelling elements and building your author platform. I also made sure to attend all three keynote speeches (one at the end of each day). Some of the sessions were enlightening and/or helpful; others, not so much. But it was interesting to hear from other authors’ about their own experiences, though it’s important to remember that, sometimes, what works for one person won’t work for another.

For example, there was a talk about how Goodreads can help you promote your work and it honestly sounded like this author was just saying “This is why I’m popular and you’re not, but good luck anyway” (fine, he didn’t actually say that, but that was the vibe he was giving off, to which I mentally replied, “if you’re so cool, why have I never heard of you?”).

But then there were the really helpful sessions, like the one about setting and description (which is something I constantly struggle with). There was a talk that helped me personally, and judging from the nodding and murmuring going around, it had a similar effect on most of the audience.

The keynote speeches were all fantastic: it’s hard to remember sometimes that even established authors go through the same self-doubt and despair of a beginner, so it was nice to hear it from the experts. Harlan Coben, who was probably my favourite speaker, made it a point to say that if an author stops doubting themselves, then they must not be a very good writer (especially if they think they are).

Being an introvert, I wasn’t sure how I would survive a room full of strangers for three days. I didn’t really “network” (that could come back to bite me on the butt), but I briefly chatted with some people. It’s a solitary profession, writing, and it’s hard to force yourself to interact with other people when all you want to do is sit in a corner by yourself and daydream. Of course, you have to break out of your shell for the biggest moment of the conference: the Pitch Slam.

Picture this: fifty literary agents sitting in a room for three hours (broken up into hour-long sessions) while 150-200 hopeful writers mill around to talk to them. You had exactly three minutes to pitch your book to an agent and wait for their response (the three minutes were perfectly timed: they gave you a 30-second warning, and rang a bell when the three minutes were up so that you weren’t wasting everyone’s time). This basically meant that you had 60-90 seconds to give a complete summary of your book, and then the remaining time was up to the agent: they could either reject your project (as not being a good fit for them) or, if they liked your idea, they could hand you a business card with submission guidelines. It’s not a guarantee that they’ll represent you, but it’s a start.

Was the PitchSlam nerve-wracking? Yes. Was I quaking in my flats the entire time? Heck yeah. But of the eight agents I approached in my allotted hour, I got eight business cards. Some of them were intrigued, others not as sold on the idea, but all eight of them requested to read the first three chapters of my book.

I don’t think I can explain the feeling of relief that washed over me when I dashed out of the room when the hour was up. Relief at being able to sit down and take a deep breath without feeling like I was going to throw up, but also relief that my book is not so bad that people reject it without giving it a chance.

Not that there’s any guarantee that they’ll love the book and everyone will fight to sign me to their agency…but it’s one more step towards my ultimate publishing goal.

I recommend this conference to all aspiring authors. It’s an excellent experience and you learn a lot. And, if you happen to like talking to strangers, you can meet some great people. But, more importantly, it will encourage your belief that you’re on the right (or should I say, the WRITE) path.

Trying to figure out if you should attend the next conference? Ask yourself this: what do you want the next chapter in your writing career to be?

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about:

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